Technology and the Transition to the Common Core

Technology and the Transition to the Common Core

As more schools and school districts across the country continue to dig deeper into the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Assessments by which they will be measured, there is a growing concern about their ability to be technologically ready within the two year timeline already established. Many have come to realize they actually have a greater “gap” with respect to technology than either the new standards or assessments.

Ann Flynn, the Director of Educational Technology for the National School Boards Association puts it this way, “Some districts are panicked about getting ready for it, but some are not even in a place where they know enough to be panicked yet. I won’t say they’re in denial, but it’s going to be a real challenge for a lot of districts.

Already dealing with growing financial constraints many school districts are now faced with a confusing and often conflicting array of hard questions about the types of devices to buy, the bandwidth needed, while at the same time preparing staff to manage the level of instructional integration that will be required.

A guiding principle of the new standards is that technology should be integrated throughout academics instead of being taught separately. They call for students to regularly use technology to help them learn. Students will be required to evaluate information presented in different media and formats, according to the standards. Along with evaluating information, they should be able to produce presentations with digital media, which includes Web-based tools such as Prezi.

As we move further into the information/technology age, more learning of all kinds will occur digitally. That means an increased demand on schools to provide more digital learning opportunities for students. To put it simply: in the very near future, a school leader who is unable to create a digital culture will struggle, as the demand grows for schools to develop the skills necessary for students to succeed in the new economy.

At last year’s 2012 Model Schools Conference, a growing number of sessions were focused on how educators can support digital learning. As Dr. Bill Daggett repeatedly pointed out, technology is one of the key forces “disrupting” the existing school system. Successful school leaders must begin to build a culture that can transition to teaching and learning in a different way, preparing very different students for a very different world. To do this they will need a strategy for how technology will be implemented in their schools and based on the understanding that the target is constantly changing.

But wait, there’s more… In about 18 months, 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories must begin new computerized student assessments that align with the Common Core State Standards they’ve adopted. These new tests will replace existing state assessments for schools that have moved to Common Core curricula in mathematics and English. A goal of the new tests is to ensure that students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and the workplace.

Two groups, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, are in the process of sketching out the technology standards schools will need for the assessment process. Both consortia have released guidelines: PARCC at PARCC.pdf and Smarter Balanced at SMARTERBALANCED.pdf.

Basic questions to consider in preparing for Common Core online testing should include the following:
Infrastructure: How many test-takers per session can currently be supported, including facilities for administering tests and other infrastructure?
Network: How many test-takers per session can currently be supported with existing levels of Internet connectivity, including network bandwidth and wireless coverage?
Devices: How many devices at school meet minimum requirements to administer the test? What is the maximum number 
of test-takers per session that can be supported with these devices?
Staff and Personnel: How many staff members have been trained to administer, troubleshoot and provide appropriate security for the tests? What is the maximum number of test-takers per session that staff can support?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that greater student access to technology is the key to making a successful transition in both instruction and assessment of the new standards. To accomplish this, students need a reliable Internet connection and sufficient bandwidth, as well as access to a variety of computing devices. The non-profit advisory group, Digital Learning Now at http://www.digitallearningnow.com/ recommends these additional questions for planning purposes:

What are your digital-conversion planning objectives and how will they support implementing the common core and preparing for the new college- and career-ready assessments?
Have you developed a phased plan for improved access that incorporates textbook and open-resources savings?
What resources can be reallocated to support deployment? What savings can be secured through adoption of digital resources?
Have you supported adoption of blended-learning models that leverage teacher talent?

In conclusion, we know many of these questions are creating serious anxiety in schools across the country, and that anxiety must be addressed. One step is to create a transition plan that involves all stakeholders, and that has clearly defined outcomes.
We know in our hearts and minds that the future classroom involves digital learning. We must find a way to create a culture of innovation that will transform our schools for this new age. To do that, we must not fear our failures because we will learn the most from them.

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